Calling it Quits: Knowing When to Fix Your Car, and When to Throw in the Towel

Owning a vehicle is not only a commitment in personal preference, but also a financial one. Choosing whether to buy a car, truck, or SUV can be a tricky decision to make. While a compact car may seem like the perfect car today, within five years a person can create an entire family or adopt a whole new lifestyle, requiring a new set of wheels to accommodate those changes. This can also be said of the financial obligation that comes along with vehicle ownership. Buying a cheap car up front, doesn’t mean you won’t end up paying for it in other ways down the road. Buying a new car and keeping it for ten years, can also end up having financial implications you did not expect.

When your once trustworthy vehicle begins to break down and continuously cause you headaches, you need to make a decision. Do you want to keep scrounging for car maintenance coupons every couple of months, or is it time to trade your car in for a new one? Making this decision can be tricky, and multifaceted. Every driver and situation is different, which makes this decision even more complex than it originally would be.

Fix Up, or Trade Up? That is a Great Question…

engine repair hand

Anyone who has had a car that needed work done can attest to how quickly maintenance fees can add up. A routine oil change can turn into a $1,000 repair if your mechanic uncovers something that needs immediate attention. Most people don’t have money in their budget leftover for these unknowns, and they can wreak havoc on your personal finances.

On the other side of the equation, those car repairs are almost always less expensive than purchasing a new or used car to replace the one that needs fixed. It is possible to find a used car for under $5,000, but more than likely, you will end up where you are today. It’s only a matter of time before that bargain car starts acting up, and you are right back to square one. If you are unable to purchase a brand new car, or one that is only a few years old, then these maintenance costs are an unfortunately unavoidable.

Today, cars are not a luxury – but a necessity. While most of us enjoy having the freedom that comes with car ownership, others see their vehicle as a costly burden. Regardless of how you view your car, truck, or SUV, the one question still remains: Do I fix it up, or trade it up?

When to Trade In

If this is the first major repair needed on your car that is in otherwise good condition, then you will likely be okay to hold onto your vehicle for a bit longer. However, if your car is constantly costing you money in auto repair services, then it may be time to consider updating.

It doesn’t just take one giant repair bill for drivers to consider a new car option. Seemingly small twenty and fifty dollar service bills add up quickly over a short period of time, and have a tendency to sneak up on you. If your vehicle seems to be in constant need of some sort of professional attention, then you may want to begin saving up for your next car purchase.

If you don’t have the extra cash laying around and don’t want to take out a large auto loan, then begin saving now. Putting money aside for a substantial down payment can be incredibly beneficial when it comes time to negotiating a monthly car payment amount. If you have a bit of time and are able to hold onto your current car for a while, you may even be able to purchase your new car in cash. Keep your current car in good condition, so the dealership you buy your new or used car from will be likely to offer you more money for it.

When to Keep It

Let’s face it – even if your car is racking up bills at your local repair center, it may be cheaper to hold onto it. Especially if your current car is paid off or if you bought it in cash, making the decision to get rid of it and upgrade to a newer model, will most likely leave you with a car payment. This monthly bill, even if you plan for it, can be a nuisance to your financial situation. Going from no car payment, to having to pay a large monthly bill every thirty days, will certainly be felt in a negative way on your budget.

If the financial strain of replacing your vehicle due to maintenance issues is too much, then figure out a game plan to make your current situation work. Whether that means setting some money aside each month for an emergency car repair fund, or making a plan with your local mechanic to slowly fix all of the issues your vehicle is having – there are ways to be flexible in this situation. It may not be the best-case scenario, but when you are forced to choose between car repair bills every so often,  or a large monthly car payment, then choosing to keep your vehicle may be the choice that makes the most sense.

Keeping It: How to Find a Trusted Mechanic


There are service centers, garages, and mechanic shops on every corner across the United States. It is important to find one that you are comfortable with, especially if you need extensive or long-term work completed on your vehicle.

An unfortunate trend among some of these less ethical businesses, is scamming the consumer into paying for fixes their vehicle does not need. Aside from reading reviews online about a service center, there really is no surefire way to know that your mechanic is being honest with you. Anytime that a technician informs you of a large or costly repair, we recommend getting a second opinion before biting the bullet. This is especially helpful to do in order to ensure that you are being quoted a fair price for the repair work that is necessary.

When you drop your vehicle off to be looked at, make sure that you don’t sign anything giving the business permission to work on your car without first informing you of the situation and getting consent. This informed consent is important, so that the garage you take it to doesn’t complete the repair and surprise you with a large bill when you go to pick up your vehicle. It may seem ridiculous that a repair center would even attempt such a misleading tactic, but we unfortunately see it happen everyday.

Bottom Line

car for sale sign

Make a list of pros and cons for your vehicle, including the advantages and disadvantages of holding onto it, or letting it go. After thoroughly examining both sides of the equation, make a decision regarding whether you will keep your vehicle, or buy a new one.

If you decide to keep it, find a certified service center that is reputable in your community, that will complete quality, honest work on your car. This little bit of due diligence will go a long way to ensure the overall life and health of your vehicle.

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